Beethoven: Piano Trios (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Trios (complete)
PERFORMER: Beaux Arts Trio
CATALOGUE NO: 468 411-2 Reissue (1979-83)
To welcome these masterful performances back to the catalogue with anything less than resounding endorsement would be disingenuous. Beethoven’s trios have always been central to the Beaux Arts Trio’s repertoire throughout its existence, and in spite of successive personnel changes, its approach to this composer has remained remarkably consistent for over four decades.

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Its original Beethoven cycle dates from the mid-Sixties, and omitted trio transcriptions of the Op. 20 Septet and Second Symphony. Isidore Cohen replaced founding violinist Daniel Guilet in 1969, joining pianist Menahem Pressler (longest-serving member of the group) and cellist Bernard Greenhouse in a further traversal, the one heard here, recorded during the years 1979-83.

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Its only credible rival at the price is Vol. 9 of DG’s ‘Complete Beethoven Edition’, comprising performances by the famous Kempff-Szeryng-Fournier trio and others. Sound engineering was marginally less satisfactory, however, and with the Beaux Arts’s second survey now available again, DG’s box becomes a less attractive option despite its lavishly illustrated booklet. Philips includes a reprint of Hans Christoph Worbs’s original notes and comprehensive track-listings, but that’s all. There’s nothing to choose in sound quality between these latest transfers and the 1991 Philips release (432 281-2), though the masters (some were digital) were superb anyway, and these peerless, eloquently managed interpretations have never been superseded. Notwithstanding Philips’s rather drab packaging and the annoyance of having to prise each disc out of its sleeve, this set instantly commands benchmark rating. Michael Jameson